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Inver House at the Quaich Society (3)

Inver House's third line up for the Quaich Society.

Bingo is not a terribly popular pursuit amongst members of the Quaich Society, but its President isn’t above using an analogy derived from that pastime. Therefore, when Lucas Dynowiak returned to St Andrews in November armed with a trio of Speyburns he made it a full house of Inver House’s single malt brands at the Society. I say ‘brands’: we haven’t seen any Balmenach thus far, but it is still doing much of the grunt work for the Hankey Bannister blends, in addition to manufacturing the exceedingly tasty Caorunn gin. However, Speyburn assumed its moment in the spotlight, succeeding from anCnoc, Balblair and Old Pulteney which had all received a favourable audience on the Fife coast.

Before we arrived at the make from what Michael Jackson believed to be Scotland’s most picturesque distillery, Lucas wanted to institute a little continuity from his previous tasting in May. It was to a couple of anCnoc expressions that we immediately turned our taste buds. Lucas is very much on the Quaich Society wavelength in his presentation style: urging us to explore the liquid first, he provides a judicious quantity of whisky geekery in the way of captions as we go.

Lucas keeps us amused.

The first pour was a ‘picnic dram’, in his words, although the label said ‘Peter Arkle No. 3′. As the name suggests, this is the third anCnoc expression released in conjunction with Scottish artist, Peter Arkle’s work. This one was exclusive to travel retail (how Lucas got these two 1l bottles past customs, I’ll never know) and unlike editions 1 and 2, hailed from Bourbon casks exclusively.

Filling in the gap between this and Peter Arkle No. 1 which we had sampled in May was Peter Arkle No. 2. A milder-mannered beast in Lucas’s opinion, many people appreciated its exuberant sweetness and heavy orange flavours. My subsequent review was a little more severe.

Fairly racing along in the procedings, Speyburn stepped up to address our gathering of whisky fans following the brace of anCnocs. If Lucas had his way, it would also be Speyside malt whisky’s ambassador to best convey that region’s style to a visiting alien. While I entertained the notion of an extra-terrestrial sporting Charles MacLean’s moustache, Lucas explained that the whisky hailed from the heart of Speyside, had been constructed in 1897 at the peak of distillery construction in the area, and produced a typically fruity, fresh spirit.

The proof was in the whisky, where no ‘Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy’ Babel fish were needed to understand the sweetness of the spirit. The first expression was the Bradan Orach, meaning golden salmon in Gaelic. The fifth best-selling single malt in the States, Lucas joked that it was more commonly enjoyed from hipflasks rather than Glencairns, as it was unashamedly a dram for the outdoorsman. Matured in Sherry casks, the Bradan Orach was meaty at first on the nose, with a growing sweetness suggesting lemon and caramel. The palate was reminiscent of boiled sweets and baked apple, while the finish was exceptionally quick. Overall, a charming little performer.

The same couldn’t be said of the 10yo, which came across as distinctly world-weary; a salmon after the ferocious fight upstream to spawn, if you will. Boasting a sharp citrussy nose, it was very restrained and carried a fragrance of ‘bathroom’. The palate revealed a clean and clinging spirit with a touch of green fruit to commend it.

A glowing anecdote arrived to lift our spirits from the dismal 10yo, and most fitting for the year, it was too. Speyburn, when first constructed, wished to produce a whisky in Queen Victoria’s diamond Jubilee year of 1897. Overbudget and dangerously close to the deadline (not unlike we students on occasion), on Old Year’s Night and without any doors or windows in the distillery, spirit flowed from the copper pots into a single Sherry butt. No-one knows what became of the cask. I suggested the barrier-less facade of the distillery may have been to blame. Still, it just goes to show that – even then – whisky makers had an eye for a marketing opportunity.

Our final whisky was the relaunched 25yo. We had been lucky enough to sample the last of the award-winning 25yo earlier in the year and I was curious as to how this one would compare. The nose initially presented treated wood and forests in summer heat. Creamy orange and banana gave way to Vicks chest rub, a slight farminess and a balsamic vinegar acidity. Orange returned on the palate (no doubt a result of the Pedro Ximenez Sherry butts used in maturation) along with vanilla, grassiness and a puckering sweetness. There was mild disappointment voiced around my table, however, that it failed to reveal deeper treasures.

On behalf of all who braved a chilly night, I thank Lucas for plundering the Inver House inventory once again to put on a most comprehensive evening of whisky. My favourite encounter of the night was the anCnoc retrospective, and especially Peter Arkle No. 3. Super sweet, clean and bright, it had taken on the most flattering Bourbon cask attributes.

A few weeks ago, I learnt of another addition to the anCnoc range. Weighing in at 22-years-of-age, I must confess that this whisky quickens my pulse. I’m blessed with rapturous memories of Inver House and master blender Stuart Harvey’s skill at managing old stocks of whiskies and for evidence I give to you the Old Pulteney 21yo, the Balblair 1989 and 1978, and the anCnoc 35yo (terrific!). This mix of Bourbon and Sherry casks, bottled at 46% abv., has some fine stablemates for company, therefore. The press release claims that it ‘displays complexity and the wealth of character expected of all single malt whisky from Knockdhu, but the leathery, smokey and smoothly tannic manifestation of maturity makes anCnoc 22-Year-Old different from the Distillery’s younger offerings.’ Priced at £85, it isn’t half bad for a whisky of this age profile and I may need to come by a bottle before it – and I - turn 23.

 

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anCnoc at the Quaich Society

The selection of anCnocs waiting to charm the Quaich Society in their final tasting of the year.

With a feat of endurance the gain-sayers could scarcely believe, the Quaich Society held its second whisky tasting in as many weeks ast Thursday. To the plaintive sobs of all, however, it was to be the last of the 2011/12 academic year. Solace of sorts came in the form of Lucas Dynowiak, acting-brand ambassador for the charming and recently highly-commended Inver House single malt stable. Having kicked off our tasting year in September with Old Pulteney and Balblair, including the 21yo expression from the Wick distillery just days before Jim Murray announced it as his Whisky Bible Whisky of the Year, hopes were high and mouths were moist for what might appear on this occasion.

Though I could hardly feel otherwise after Inver House’s superlative hospitality towards myself and my fellow bloggers in November 2010, I arrived at Knockdhu distillery near Huntly and fell in love with the place. In the process, I acquired a keen appreciation for their creamy, unctuous but somehow clean and fresh make. The New York-based Scottish artist Peter Arkle obviously holds that little pocket of Aberdeenshire in high regard too, because a couple of weeks ago Inver House announced their partnership with a series of limited bottlings bearing Peter’s artwork, and furthering anCnoc’s affiliations with the creative arts industry. Armed with a couple of bottles of the brand spanking new Peter Arkle Limited Edition, Lucas’ arrival could not have been better timed.

‘I feel you can only judge a distillery on their entry level malt,’ said Lucas. ‘For me, this 12yo is fantastic.’ The Quaich Soc’ers set to work on the first of only two core expressions which bear the anCnoc name and I for one loved the up-front sweetness, with tempered but ominous darkness underneath. The nose was firm and fixing with fresh barley, bold vanilla and candied orange. The palate revealed the slightly feral richness that worm tubs convey to a spirit: rich barley and building vanilla toffee skirted around the darker flavours which reminded me of malting floors and the dustier corners of the distillery.

If there was one dram that captured the popular imagination over the course of the night, however, it was the 16yo. Glasses containing this pale gold spirit were the first to be scavenged from unattended tasting mats and little wonder. Lucas suggested there were some ‘tired’ Bourbon casks in the vatting for this whisky, but all I found was malt and vibrant oak working in sublime harmony. Seriously honeyed on the nose, there grew aromas of caramelised, candied yellow fruits, soft but deep floral tones and cookie dough. The oak made the mouth water, while elevating all of the other flavours packed in to the soirit. Peach and coconut emerged with a bit of water. The palate boasted fullness and richness with plenty of fruit and Werther’s Original toffee maltiness. Stunningly good, all-round.

On then, to the more singular sideshow of anCnoc, and one which makes it highly popular with connoisseurs. Released a short while ago, the 1998 Vintage exhibits partial Bourbon and Fino sherry cask maturation. On the nose this produced heavy red raisin aromas and macerated green fruits. The belief is that worm-tub-condensed spirits often require a little bit longer in the cask for sulphur-masked flavour compounds to completely blossom into more attractive aromas and flavours and despite being two years older than the standard 12yo, low wines and feints receiver scents came across more forcefully in this expression. With a bit of time, though, hedgerow berry conserve and nettles predominated. Full on the palate, there was a pronounced nuttiness which I interpreted as walnut and peanut. Dark and grungey overall.

A close-up of the label for anCnoc's new Peter Arkle Limited Edition.

What of the boldly-packaged Peter Arkle then? Was the eye-catching black-on-white design disguising an inferior product? Far from it, as this was to be a handful of peoples’ favourite of the tasting. All-matured in Fino sherry casks, the nose was creamily nutty with masses of golden raisin. Green pear and so much fudge appeared next. Grape skins emerged, too, and a waxy feel which must hint at the drams youthfulness (8 years in oak, roughly). The palate was markedly different from the others of the night: fruity and sulphury with cider apples and mango. Dried fruits took over into the medium-length finish. I must confess that my colours were pinned to the 16yo, but this is one intriguing bottling.

For the fifth dram, Lucas opted for an ‘informal’ policy. Guests had the option of a measure of the Speyburn 25yo, decorated at the recent World Whisky Awards, and the third instalment from Balblair’s 1989 stocks. Attendance numbers meant that most, as fortune would have it, succeeded in wangling a dram of both. The Speyburn blended aromas and flavours of old country houses and libraries, with an oily and fresh maltiness that made yours truly sit up and take notice. The Balblair delivered its usual creamy citrus and banana-toffee notes with, if anything, still more elan and softness than previous releases.

To the Raffle, therefore, and the impossible very nearly happened. If John Glaser had outdone himself with the previous tasting’s prizes, Lucas’ donation exceeded many of the company’s happiest whisky dreams. Held aloft was a pre-release, pre-just-about-anything bottle of the forthcoming anCnoc 35yo – the oldest expression ever bottled by the distillery. I was forbidden in no uncertain terms from posting images of this beauty, but I can tell you what it tasted and smelt like.

On the nose, this whisky echoed the 12yo with its cleanliness but also with its hints of the deeply dark. Like the single cask Aberfeldy of our Society tour in March, oak held sway but to gorgeous effect: interspersed with the charcoal were glossy orange sweets and rich honey. A mint fudge note alluded to the redoubtable age of this dram. The palate was a slow build: candle wax, honey, floral notes and spice filling the mouth. Dense mossy oak hove into view and the finish revealed clean, malty sweetness.

Our thanks go to Lucas for his generosity and improvisation. anCnoc may not have been firmly established in the subconsciousnesses of our members beforehand, but I suspect there are some new converts who won’t be looking too far over The Hill for their next whisky purchase.

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